Roland Thornton, executive vice president for Qwest Wholesale Markets - Allstars

Roland Thornton, executive vice president for Qwest Wholesale Markets, makes no bones about the stark economic reality that he and the rest of the industry faced in 2009.

At the same time, Thornton sees a brighter outlook in 2010. Stopping short of saying he's seeing a full-blown recovery, he's seeing some signs of life from his customer base.

"All of us were coming through a significant headwind with the economic downturn which affected a lot of areas in our business," he said. "The good news is as we go and enter into 2010, I am beginning to see customers buy again cautiously but nonetheless no longer are we seeing the distress of the economic conditions back in the middle to the second quarter of last year."

Chief among Qwest Wholesale's targets in 2010 is wireless backhaul.

Throughout 2009 and it aggressively built out fiber to cell sites in its 14-state region. While he would not reveal potential customers, Qwest Wholesale has gotten requests to upgrade 7,500 of the 17,000 cell sites that reside in its territory. Traditionally dominated by TDM-based T1 circuits, Qwest is seeing that the circuit du jour its customers want for wireless backhaul is now Ethernet.

"The largest growth opportunity is in the wireless backhaul business," Thornton said. "We are committed to that business and providing our wireless service providers with the capacity they need in order to satisfy their end users. If you think about what has been happening in the past year, even in the economic downturn capacity demands from end-users continue to increase."

From all accounts, Qwest Wholesale has put itself on the right track for growth. Perhaps the service provider's biggest challenge will be dealing with meeting the demand for fiber at the cell site and the inevitable declines in traditional voice sales.

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Roland Thornton, executive vice president for Qwest Wholesale Markets - Allstars